The National Party has vowed to ban students from using their phones at school if elected, but it will ultimately be up to schools themselves as to how such a policy is enforced.
It would bring New Zealand in line with Australian states which enforce such rules.
Luxon today announced National wanted to “turn around falling achievement” by eliminating “unnecessary disturbances and distractions”.
He would do so by banning the use of phones at schools for the entire day, including breaks between classes, with the expectation they would be “off and away all day”. It would apply to primary, intermediate and secondary schools.
“Schools will be able to decide exactly how they enforce it, but it could mean requiring students to hand in their phones before school, or leave them in their lockers or bags,” he said.
“Parents can contact students via the school office, and exceptions for students with health conditions or special circumstances will be permitted.”
Those special circumstances included students whose phones aided learning challenges and those who needed their phones for health purposes.
“Students only have one shot at their school years, and we want to help them make the most of their valuable class time,” Luxon said.
“While we once ranked in the top-10 OECD nations in maths, science, and reading, we have fallen outside the top 10 in all three core subjects.
“Many schools and parents are concerned about the use of devices and research indicates there are health and social benefits to reducing screen time and encouraging students to interact with each other during their breaks.”
Luxon told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast countries around the world had adopted the stance of not allowing phones in school.
”We are behind it. This is logical, common sense, not political or ideological.”
If in government after the election, Luxon would add a regulation in the Education and Training Act that would require schools follow the ban. Penalties for students would be decided by schools.
Luxon told Newstalk ZB devices like Apple Watches could be added to the ban if principals or parents felt they were also interrupting students’ learning.
Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault told AM that students having cellphones is not an issue at his school.
He said cellphones were actually sometimes appropriate to assist children in their learning such as when they needed to film themselves for a task.
Couillault said there were consequences in place for when students used their phones when they shouldn’t.
He said there should be more focused on other issues such as vaping.
Earlier this year, National also unveiled its plan for primary and intermediate schools to be required to teach students for at least one hour a day on each of the topics of reading, writing and math.
In July, the Guardian reported Queensland had banned all mobile phones and smart watches from all state schools from next year. Parents supported a mobile phone ban in New South Wales primary schools, while Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia have similar restrictions for high schools.
The ABC reported at the time Queensland had been the only state not to impose phone rules in state schools.
Principals and school leaders of non-state schools would have the authority to choose and implement a phone-use policy, it reported.
During a visit to St Joseph’s School Fairfield in Hamilton yesterday, Luxon said he’d been told by principals and parents how mobile phones were a “distraction” and National would have “more to say about that very shortly”.
Education Minister Jan Tinetti, who provided a statement yesterday following reports of these comments, said a national ban would be “unnecessary” and believed it showed National misunderstood how schools operated.
“Schools can ban cellphones at school if they believe this is appropriate and I understand that many already do,” she said.
“Introducing a ban of this kind would undermine schools who are best placed to make this decision, as it needs to be made on a case-by-case basis to take into account learners who may need phones for accessibility reasons.”
Last year, the Otago Daily Times reported two South Island schools banned the use of phones at school in efforts to improve learning, increase exercise and decrease bullying.
Otago Boys’ High School made the decision in February to ban phone use between classes, upgrading its existing ban on phones being used during class time.
Head boy Isaac Ottrey said at the time there would be boys who would find the new policy tough, but hopefully adapting would take no longer than a few weeks.
In November, Ashburton College opted to enforce students’ phones being turned off and kept in a bag, including interval and lunchtime.
Principal Ross Preece outlined the reasoning behind the decision, which included creating a better learning environment for students and reducing the amount of harmful content distributed through social media.
The question of whether phones should be allowed at school was posed in a 2020 piece by the Education Gazette, a Ministry of Education publication.
It cited several schools’ policies, including Auckland’s Glendowie College, which banned use from the start of the year. Principal Gordon Robertson was reported as saying students took time to adjust following the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“Coming back from both lockdowns, it took students a few days to get used to not having continual access to their phones,” he told the Gazette.
“Student social engagement with each other is greater than last year, with more being active on the field or engaging in activities with other students.
“Many students would prefer access to their phones during the day but the vast majority comply with the rules.”
Conversely, Albany Senior High School had encouraged “sensible use” by students instead of a ban.
“Basically, I believe we are supporting young adults to self-manage, so they should have their phones but also learn how to ensure they don’t become distractions,” principal Claire Amos said.
“Students have a lifetime of device ownership ahead. I think we need to be realistic that they can be learning tools and that young people can learn to manage them.”
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.